Just over 30 years ago in the early hours of February 11, 1991, a band of locals armed with digging equipment, kiwi-initiative and a touch of civil rebellion, gathered at Mangawhai’s lagoon and began to breathe life back into their dying harbour.
Colloquially known as the legendary ‘Big Dig’, the unique event is the real-life drama of how a bunch of can-do residents, frustrated by the inertia of councils and the Department of Conservation, as well as risking arrest, took their harbour’s health into their own hands.
Since the late 1970s major storms, including Cyclone Bola in 1987, had diminished the lagoon’s natural ebb-and-flow, creating rogue, shallow breaches along the Mangawhai Spit and sediment build-up in the northern inlet which caused the waters to stagnate.
Over four days the determined group, supported by a large number of volunteers, laboured to reopen the harbour’s northern end by Picnic Bay and close off a southern breach, allowing the sea to once again stream through and cleanse the lagoon.
However, as the northern entrance kept closing, volunteers committed countless hours over the next five years to monitor and dredge the harbour, finally achieving lasting success after a man-made bund wall was erected at the southern breach of the harbour, allowing for the current to flow once more through only the northern channel.
As a result of the Big Dig, many of the original members formed the Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society (MHRS), the environmental organisation which still remains today as the guardians of Mangawhai’s harbour.
Visit Mangawhai Museum to view the whole story.
- REPORTING/JULIA WADE